Behind bars and innocent

February 19, 2009 6:37:44 PM PST
He served six years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Now Ricardo "Ricky" Rachell is speaking out as investigators announce they are preparing to charge another man with the crime. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

DNA evidence finally set Rachell free. Now, it's that same evidence that is helping investigators track down the right man.

Days after a man on a bike raped a little boy near a busy southeast Houston intersection the 8 year-old victim finger pointed Ricardo Rachell as the rapist.

"I was walking down the street and they came to my mother's house and the little boy in the backseat, he said I was the person who done it," he told us.

Despite Rachell's claims of innocence, the positive identification led to his conviction and a 60 year-prison sentence.

"To have your freedom taken away it's horrible, you know," Rachell admitted. "It messes with you. I was sad, real sad."

Especially because Rachell already had an idea of whom the real rapist might be.

"Well I saw it on 13 Eyewitness News, I saw it," he remembered. "Dave Ward said they were looking for a man on the southeast side."

That man was register sex offender, Andrew Wayne Hawthorne. A DNA sample tied Hawthorne to that crime and several others.

Years later Rachell's lawyer found DNA evidence from his case. It cleared him and after six years in prison, just seven weeks ago, he came home.

"I have my freedom, it feels nice, it feels good," he said.

Prosecutors have named Hawthorne as a suspect in the original 2002 rape and Rachell is trying to understand his false conviction. He thinks is appearance had something to do with it. Considered handsome as a young man, 16 years ago that changed when someone shot him in the face.

"[The bullet went in] on the left and it came out the right," he showed the camera.

The devastating disfigurement changed Rachell's life. Children called him the scary man around his neighborhood. They ran from him and threw rocks. Ultimately he believes the way he looks made him an easy target.

He's anxious to see the right person convicted. His mother and brother died while he was in prison.

"Well I'm still a little upset, just a little bit I'm a little angry," he said.

Rachell recently received news the court of criminal appeals recommended his pardon so his name can be cleared. If the governor grants a full pardon, he could qualify for $300,000 in compensation.

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